Color Contacts Can Carry Risks

ByABC News
September 12, 2002, 12:54 PM

Sept. 13 -- "Don't it make my brown eyes blue?" crooned Crystal Gayle of unrequited love. While she may not have meant it literally, nowadays with the help of cosmetic contact lenses, brown-eyed girls can brandish baby-blues if they so choose. But most may be unaware of the potentially costly consequences.

Cosmetic contacts have quickly become the latest teenage fad. Teens we spoke with in Ohio, New York and Maryland say colored lenses are a kick, whether you need glasses or not. People who have no need for correcting their vision are still donning these lenses, simply for cosmetic purposes.

"Right now they're green," 15-year-old Alaina, whose real eye color is brown, told ABCNEWS' Arnold Diaz. "But I also have a honey color that makes them yellow...depending on what outfit I'm wearing."

Sales of contact lenses are up 20 percent, and manufacturers are targeting the youth market with wild colors and patterns like zebra, ice fire, knockouts, and red hots.

But what began as a fashion fad is also a potential health hazard. Even cosmetic lenses that have no vision correction in them have to be fitted by an eye doctor. That's the law. But many teens are buying bootleg colored lenses without a prescription from often unlicensed vendors, and taking other risks.

"Did you know that the kids are selling these contact lenses out of their locker at high school?" asks Dr. Thomas Steineman, director of the eye clinic at Cleveland's Metro Health Medical Center in Ohio. "Did you know that kids are dyeing contact lenses in vegetable dyes found in things like Kool-Aid? Did you know that kids are sharing lenses with their friends? That's really dangerous."

No Less Risky

All contact lenses carry the potential for serious complications. However, some people carry the belief that because colored lenses do not correct vision and are purely cosmetic, they are not as risky to wear without a prescription.

"The fallacy of that logic is that they are made of some of the same materials and they fit on the cornea as a foreign body just like any other contact lens," explains Dr. Gary Foulks, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.